Thursday, 1 September 2011


Being corrupt implies destroying integrity by being dishonest and tainting the object in question. The object is generally a relationship between an institution (or an officer of an institution) and an individual (a customer or stakeholder of that institution) in most cases. However, corruption also extends to individual relationships and that is in the simple form of trust. Trust is the corner stone of all relationships in my view; be it a parent-child or sibling relationship, friendship, boss-subordinate or peer-peer liaising, a doctor-patient association, state-civilian relationship etc. The presence of trust provides confidence that the individuals/institutions related in the equation will conduct themselves in an expected fashion. When that expected behavioral pattern is altered, uncertainty increases and doubts creep in causing friction in an otherwise agreeable equation.

In my experience and discussions, such encounters of broken trust are becoming increasingly common and frequent across social set-ups. These instances are of also of varieties and intensities. I am told there once was an individual who feigned illness with one friend to be able to go out partying with another set of friends. All was well until the time the friend who was lied to spotted her friend all hale and hearty making merry. No big deal really, but this definitely corroded an otherwise solid friendship especially since the trust was broken for a trivial reason. There are innumerable stories of bosses filling in their own bonus kitties and not fulfilling promises made to subordinates or alternatively unwarranted promotions being granted out of partiality. At the end of the year not only does it lead to heartburn but increases churn rates of employees in an organization impacting the team morale and general foundation of the entity in question. Negligent and unconcerned doctors cause grave damage to lives and the medical profession alike. Spousal mistrust leading to violence and abuse is only on the increase if media is to be believed. The state and the representatives of the state not delivering on their promises is now sadly an accepted part of life in India.

Why the breakdown of trust at individual levels leads to societal and professional discord is quite interestingly illustrated by Roy J. Lewicki’s framework[1] of trust and distrust.


characterized by:

Hope, Faith, onfidence, Assurance, Initiative

· High-value congruence

· Interdependence promoted

· Opportunities pursued

· New initiatives

· Trust but verify

· Relationships highly segmented & bounded

·Opportunities pursued & risks/vulnerabilities continually monitored


characterized by:

No Hope, No Faith, No Confidence, Passivity, Hesitance

· Casual acquaintances

· Limited interdependence

· Bounded, arms length transactions

· Professional courtesy

·Undesirable eventualities expected & feared

· Harmful motives assumed

· Interdependence managed

· Pre-emption, Best offense is good defense

· Paranoia


characterized by:

No fear, No Vigilance, Absence of Skepticism, Absence of Cynicism, Low Monitoring


characterized by:

Fear, Vigilance, Skepticism, Cynicism, Wariness, Watchfulness

If we were to assume a starting point, it may be fair enough to say that most relationships start in the quadrant of Low Trust – Low Distrust(1). There is little expectation from the involved parties of one another. However, a society largely prevailing in this mode is prone to be inefficient given the limited interdependence.

From this quadrant, the relationship in the best case scenario moves to the quadrant with High Trust – Low Distrust (2). Entities and societies in this mode are more likely to be very proficient, cohesive and with a higher quotient of well being as they are most prone to resolving conflicts arising due to trust issues[2]. With a high trust factor and a low distrust factor there is a higher likelihood of people not wanting to destroy integrity. Once that integrity is broken the relationship moves into a place which has the presence of High Distrust. It will be unfair to assume that with one instance of broken trust the relationship cascades into the least desirable quadrant of Low Trust – High Distrust (4).

Taking the case of the friend sighted above and that of professional environments, it is likely that from quadrant 2, the relationship first transgresses to High Trust – High Distrust quadrant (3). If repeated interactions lead to situations where the expected behavioral patterns are altered and/or dishonesty pursues, then the relationship is doomed for quadrant 4. In this environment interactions are fairly guarded, conversations monitored, information exchange not optimal and there are significant inefficiencies in the system.

If I take the context of the urban Indian environment today we are in the High Distrust quadrants. With the state, the relationship of the civilians is in the least desirable quadrant 4. In the case of urban middle class amongst themselves, in my view we are in quadrant 3. There are too many expectations that are laid on people in personal contexts and when these are not met with, the situation is of quadrant 4. This partly explains, in my view, the rising spousal violence, killings of employers (unorganized sector) etc. In the true professional environment money is becoming a key motivating factor and that in the environment of recession if monetary payments are not met there is severe corrosion of trust. Thus at work we are shuttling between quadrants 3 and 4. There are fewer people who trust in the “goodness” of another individual or institution.

Thus, in my view, whether we eradicate corruption or not is dependent on whether we can restore trust and eradicate distrust. If we can at least lower the prevalence of distrust, we will be able to move towards creating an environment where dishonesty is lower. Lower dishonesty will promote trust. There is a chance then that we may be able to create an environment of existence are quadrants 2 and 3. Whether, the Jan Lokpal bill, can achieve this aim, I remain skeptical! Not because of lack of trust or dominance of distrust, but because I do not believe centralization of an issue is an efficient means of arriving at a resolution.

[1] Ref: A Cognitive Theory of Trust, Hill & O’Hara

[2] Lewicki et al., A Cognitive Theory of Trust, Hill & O’Hara

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cities of the World

What would I not give to be able to draw caricatures of my selection of top world cities at this moment! Probably even if I gave everything it would be worthless as I cannot sketch to save my life! So I guess I have to make do with words, which at least at times, do walk my talk.

Before my expressions start painting the picture, let me set the reference points. In my depictions a man represents money and power while a woman denotes grace, elegance and warmth. Did I hear sexist? Not at all! Just paying homage to the majority traits of the two genders.

Let’s start at the very beginning, the very place that the seed of this idea was sowed; London – my city of bridges. The very wonderful and charming city that embraced me eight years ago when I walked in a nobody is now old and widowed. The aristocratic lady has a very demanding family. Her aura, character and personality remain; however, the depth of the wallet is waning. How she forms her will is being fought over, and this old gentle creature now needs care. Boris Johnson is definitely not the right grandson for the part but for the moment there is no choice. Let us hope that her youth returns and she is vibrant once more.

It is with sympathy that the young man and woman (a married couple), i.e. New York, look at this old lady. Together they not only have what London lacks in power and wealth but also the youth lends energy. Yes they will need more grey hair to get the character and aura that London has; but well why fret about tomorrow when today can be cherished! However, personally, I think I prefer the grandmotherly touch across the Atlantic than the frenzied life of the couple.

On the other side of the world from New York yet another fascinating story is unfolding. That of a middle aged man with maybe a dark side to him. Popularly the world calls him Hong Kong. He is a descendant of the widowed aristocrat, can be smooth and suave; but craving the life of the married couple, he is always in a hurry and lives on the edge. Yes he is interesting and remarkable but do not be deceived, be on a guard as he may take you by surprise anytime!

Taking this living on the edge to another level is the brash young man called Bombay. He believes that he has the world hooked to his talent and would like to rule the globe. His impatience and newly acquired additional disposable income is making life unruly. Sanity to his life comes from the calmness of his mother, a cousin of the old widowed aristocrat. The maturity of the mother and her affection holds back the young lad from shattering in times of adversities, helps him pick up and move on. A mentor is hard to come his way so his only hope to becoming stable is developing patience and employing rationality in conduct on his own.

Rationality comes very naturally to Bombay’s neighbors – the nouveau riche young couple with a very proper set up; Singapore. What can one say about them? Everything in their house is functional. There are no breakdowns and no eventful moments. Life runs with a soft rhythm that does not change its pace. Frankly, after a while it feels too suffocating. Maybe they need to borrow some of the vicarious ways of Hong Kong and Bombay?

Talking of vicarious, there is no one else with a more sensational life than the young European romantic lady with a line of suitors on the shores of the Seine. Paris is breathtaking, charming and her cultured panache entices most hearts that set sight on her. She can win all five senses in all seasons and is truly a diva.

The only chic male in Europe, matching this diva’s personality, is the relatively young King of Bavaria -Munich. Sadly, he lacks her perennial vivaciousness and can be a little too sophisticated to keep her interested. That in part is because somewhere the memory of his departed beloved wife lingers on. But when he decides to pursue, he can beat the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Once you know him, you grow to love him. He is still the strong, stable and trusting man standing tall.

An odd combination of sorts of Paris and Munich is far down in the southern hemisphere where a distant cousin of Paris lives. She has beauty but not all the sophistication. This young lady’s good looks have overawed a million suitors but her mild aggression and attitude has simultaneously tamed their interest. Not that she needs to worry, because she has her own young native South African fiancĂ©. He may not be the all powerful but he is as handsome as her and has a way of living his own life. Together they bring a unique splendor to the world and Cape Town is the perfect definition of a happy couple. The uniqueness of their relationship is difficult to replicate in this world; and I can safely say that it is for this reason that Cape Town is my favorite city.

There are many more cities to cover – Vienna, Delhi, DC etc. but the mere mention of my favorite has me mesmerized. The memories are too sweet to let go of and it seems like it is time to become nostalgic and reminisce my days in Cape Town. So I guess I will sign off here and maybe capture the other caricatures in another edition another time.

Monday, 11 April 2011

We Don't Need No Legislation

I was in London the last week and hence missed the hoopla in the country with Anna Hazare’s fast unto death. I was back in the country for a few hours on Saturday and all I could read and hear was how this one man had given the country some hope of seeing lower dishonesty. I was not convinced; not with Anna Hazare’s spirit but with the suggested course of action, the bill itself. Call me a skeptic, call me a cynic; I just do not believe that another law in this country will actually help reduce corruption. The only thing it will do is generate employment – first for those who help the committee research the draft and then for those who become a part of the Lokpal. In fact if the Lokpal is set up it will bejust another way of exploitation and influencing.

These thoughts were loitering in the corners of my brain cells on Saturday night as I queued outside the airport waiting to get in for my next international flight. Suddenly the lingering thoughts burst to the forefront. There were two youngsters praising Anna and cursing the politicians. It was not their chatter that got my sleepy thoughts to wake up and skip around. It was their actions. As they spoke of the rampant treachery in the nation, they were trying to jump the queue. I was amused with the hypocrisy. I encountered the duo yet again at the security check, scurrying around to see how they could move ahead of turn once more.

This attitude and insincerity is what makes me a believer that legislation will not be effective in reducing or ridding the country of corruption. The interest around Anna Hazare’s fast probably benefited the media the most and the telecom company as some attention has been diverted away, finally! The rest of us will talk of this for a while and then move on to being who we are – finding the quickest route possible to achieve our goals.

Aboard my flight I was fighting my time zone clash and decided to watch a movie. I stumbled across a Naomi Watts film, Fair Game. The film is based on the autobiography of an ex-CIA covert agent, Valerie Palmer, who at the time of the US attacking Iraq was almost about to prove that there were no WMD in Iraq. As the invasion started, her husband, an ex-ambassador to Niger started questioning the government’s motives. In order to divert attention away from the tough questions that were posed, the White House made the couple a pawn. Valerie’s cover was blown, her credibility and track record trashed and her husband was made to look like an anti-American. The world knows today that there were no WMD in Iraq but there is a lot of Oil. If the White House could stoop to abysmal levels only to safeguard the President’s ratings and cover up the lies; I am sure that less powerful people, hungrier for power could stoop to lower levels. With resources and might on their side, a legislation will only be a small hurdle. Yes, I was all along thinking of the Lokpal bill.

Corruption is prevalent world over. The difference in India is that we see it blatantly in our faces every single day. That does not mean that we condone it or do not work to rid society of this ill. However, legislation can never work in the absence of willingness. Valerie Palmer and her husband decided to take the challenge head on and speak the truth. They did not succumb to the might of the White House. Anna Hazare did not worry about himself or how would his actions be received by the government. He believed that it was his duty to bring attention to the rampant corruption in the country and the need to address it and so he fearlessly forged ahead with his mission. It is fortitude that got the system to pause and pay attention. It was his sincerity and courage that got the nation to support him, however, the spirit that he would probably like to see (in my view) is probably absent; my point in case being the duo at the airport.

Legislation can work when there is a need to enforce a right, for e.g. the right to vote or the right to religion. Legislation cannot replace ethics, moral conduct or righteousness. So there can be a legislation that provides citizens with the right to query processes and get information, however, then it is up to law and lawmakers to enforce justice. Giving powers to a centralized committee to enforce “justice” in case of corruption related issues only provides an opportunity for the influential to exert pressure on one body rather than fight their ills through the system. We need to acknowledge that in any form or shape, the center of power and influence will remain the same. To bring change we need to change that core. To strengthen and alter that foundation we as citizens need to speak fearlessly and acknowledge our duties. Our primary obligation and most powerful right is the right to vote. If we execute this duty sincerely and sensibly, in time we will be able to rid the system of the leeches it has come to harbor. Our right to free speech and expression is what we need to capitalize on and not rest till the guilty are brought to justice. Numerous examples exist where with the help of truth and media, the aggrieved have secured justice. Yes there is a cost attached to all this. The cost of giving up some of our own comforts, of acknowledging that the blame game needs to start with self and of respecting that the rights that are ours are equally those of the other billion citizens of the country.

It has become fashionable to blame the government for every difficulty that we face. It has equally become a fashion to heap praises on someone who speaks against the system (rightly or wrongly). Grumbling and washing our dirty linen in public has become second nature to us Indians. We need to stop that, pause, reflect and then take a steadier course where we are in not a hurry to reach our final destination. In pace will come sensibility and responsibility. In stride will come the innate ability to render obligations, shoulder responsibilities and apportion credits. It is our country and it is up to us to shape its future. We can either speed into chaos or walk into prosperity. The choice is ours. No legislation can give it or take it from us.